Giving Every Child a Shot at Life
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Shot@Life Champion Summit, a gathering of vaccine advocates from across the country who come together each year to learn about the crucial role the U.S. plays in supporting global immunizations. Advocates also learn the powerful impact of advocacy through trainings and meetings with Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.
Shot@Life, a campaign of the United Nations Foundation, aims to ensure that children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines. The campaign works to build a group of Champions (advocates), who will dedicate their voices, time, and support to standing up for childhood in developing countries.
At the Summit, I heard from several Champions who are experts in the areas of vaccines, global health, and international development. The most powerful speaker for me was Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the UN Foundation who has worked to improve the lives of women and girls around the world. She focused on the value of vaccines for women, and not just in the obvious ways, like preventing cervical cancer. “When we talk about the statistics of infant mortality, we rarely talk about grief,” she said. She shared the heartbreaking story of her great-grandmother, who died of tuberculosis in her early thirties after losing five of eleven children in their infancies. I don’t think many of us living in Washington today can imagine how painful these losses must have been for her. And while it can be easy, in our day-to-day work, to focus on the numbers and rates, it’s a powerful reminder of why those numbers and rates matter. Dr. Gupta reminded us that vaccines don’t just “save lives” – they prevent grief, and allow mothers to focus their energies on caring for healthy children.
Dr. Gupta emphasized how fortunate we are to live during the age that we do, with advancements in vaccines and general health. However, developing countries are still in need of these valuable resources. And where vaccines could prevent an estimated 2.5 million deaths among children younger than age 5 around the globe, 1 child still dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccine. Therefore, the U.S. strives to provide access and education around vaccines through a variety of ways. Did you know the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is key in leading worldwide efforts to eradicate polio and measles? Or that USAID is a key partner of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which creates immunization access for the world’s poorest countries, immunizing half a billion children? Even the U.S.’s contribution to UNICEF helps save lives, as they deliver vaccines to 45% of the world’s children. The U.S. is a leader in providing vaccine assistance globally, as well as here at home by providing funding to various organizations working at the community level.
Being a local organization that promotes immunizations, our work at WithinReach is also part of a global community. We’re reminded of that every year, as American travelers bring back vaccine-preventable diseases from across the globe. “Disease anywhere is disease everywhere” with our interconnected world and the ease of travel. Diseases that have been long rare at home are still prevalent in many other areas of the world. That is why it is important that we advocate and create awareness around vaccine-preventable diseases through our community members, our partners and state leaders. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can help every child have a shot at life, check out shotatlife.org.
Vaccine Education Across Language and Culture
By Judith Pierce, WithinReach Immunizations Graduate Intern.
From April 18-25, we’re celebrating National Infant Immunization Week. Did you know that routine childhood immunization in one birth cohort prevents about 20 million cases of disease and about 42,000 deaths? It’s pretty awesome. That’s why we work to ensure that all children in Washington have access to immunizations, and their parents have the information they need to make a good decision. Unfortunately, not everyone has the same access to health information. Below, our graduate intern, Judith Pierce, describes her work with us to help address one of these gaps.
In summer of 2014 I had just completed my first year of public health school, and was in search of a year- long project for my capstone requirement. I knew I wanted to practice skills in evaluation and data analysis, but I also wanted a project with content that would be able to hold my interest for a year. When I initially approached WithinReach’s Immunization program, I was really interested in their work with provider training and the Immunity Community, and assumed I would work on those projects. Instead, they gave me the opportunity to develop a community forum for Russian speakers. Through speaking with the Immunization team I learned that Russian speakers have the lowest childhood immunization rates of any population in Washington, and have had the lowest rates since 2008. This was incredibly interesting and I grew curious to learn more.”
Over ten months I researched the literature and spoke with key informants to better understand the historical context and social connections in Russian speaking populations that contribute to low immunizations rates. Much of the vaccine hesitancy we find in Russian speakers stems from confusion and frustration with the US immunization schedule, concerns of adverse reactions to the vaccines and an inability to find a Russian speaking provider to answer their questions. The Washington State Department of Health conducted a series of Russian speaking focus groups to identify major themes, and all four groups requested an event with a Russian speaking provider to address immunization concerns in a community forum. With help from Spokane-based health service providers, we were able to develop the community forum parents asked for. At the forum, parents expressed their frustration and fears about childhood immunizations to a Russian speaking pharmacist who was able to answer their questions and explain why the US immunization schedule is different from their home countries. At the end of the meeting, the majority of surveyed participants said they enjoyed the forum and were able to have their questions answered by someone they trusted. 40% said the forum changed their minds about immunizations.
With the measles outbreak at Disneyland and whooping cough on the rise in Washington, media pundits and bloggers often lay the blame squarely on a mythical homogenous anti-vaccination group. The reality is people have a variety of concerns, and those of us doing immunization work should not assume why a particular group has fears about vaccines. This project allowed me to not only develop skills and learn new content, but also develop an appreciation for programs, such as Washington State Department of Health’s focus groups, that actively seek to understand health disparities and find culturally appropriate ways to address concerns within a community.
For additional information on how to develop a community forum addressing vaccine concerns for Russian speakers, contact Sara Jaye Sanford, WithinReach’s Immunization Action Coalition of Washington Program Coordinator at: (206) 830-5175 or email@example.com.